A Month of Creative Writing

Challenge Yourself to a Month of Creative Writing

Throughout this month I have shared ideas to combat writer’s block, practice techniques and my own efforts to get back into writing. For the first time I have openly shared some of my own work and have grown in confidence as a result. I was really terrified about posting up my first ever poem but since then have been going through my back catalogue, editing and developing older works. It is now time for me to get back into writing so for March I am hoping to put some of the techniques I have banded about into practice.

I have challenged myself to a month of creative writing.

In With the New

Blogging has done what I hoped it would and kick started some of my old creativity. I used to be writing all the time but when my mental health began to decline it slowly grounded to a halt. When I was at school, poetry gave me a way to express my negativity. The pain of my father’s illness, of teenage romances and the rage of hormones flowed out of me and on to the page. Some of the results were very poor, violent and messy but some are poems that I am quite pleased with such as Hunters, Grief, and Listen to the Bees.

I can’t pin point when I stopped writing, but I am confident in saying that Love Letter was my last good piece of work. No longer writing reflects how insular I had become, no longer expressing my feelings resulted in them accumulating, eventually leading to the disintegration of my mental health. Blogging has been part of putting myself back together.

I have found a renewed energy this month. I has made me realise that during the past 2 years there has been very little stamina to my enthusiasm. Now, however, I have a spring in my step, a refreshed spirit and a string of ideas.

Finale

With this rediscovery of enthusiasm I wanted to wave goodbye to February with one final piece of old writing. Once again it is something I did when I was at school and is another exercise that I wanted to share that I think might be a way of either easing oneself back into writing or overcoming writer’s block.

Just as in that previous post, this is a piece of work inspired from the work of another author. This is why I am only sharing these pieces as a suggestion of getting into writing, great care should always be taken when gaining inspiration from the work of others to avoid plagiarism.

At A Level, following on from War Poetry we studied Love Through the Ages. One of our texts was William Shakespeare’s Othello. Our assignment was to write a soliloquy in the style of the villain Iago. For anyone unfamiliar with the play and its characters I have included some notes from the Oxford School Shakespeare text:

Othello: The Moor: a black African prince living in a European, colour-prejudiced, society where he holds high rank in the Venetian military forces.

Iago: Othello’s ensign (standard-bearer): a Venetian and a professional soldier, he conceals his real nature under an appearance of ‘honesty’.’

The text below forms part of Iago’s soliloquy from Act 1 Scene 1, lines 145-159:

Farewell, for I must leave you
It seems not meet, nor wholesome to my place
To be produc’d, as if I stay I shall,
Against the Moor. For I do know the state….

Though I do hate him as I do hell’s pains,
Yet, for necessity of present life,
I must show out a flag and sign of love…

The crux of the matter is that Iago hates Othello and sets about sabotaging his relationship with his wife Desdemona. He plants seeds of jealousy, making Othello think that his wife is having an affair. To reveal anymore would be spoilers.

The piece I am posting today was part of a school assignment to write our own soliloquy for the character Iago. As such it uses the same archaic language as Shakespeare and is not intended to be disrespectful.

How I abhor the ancient
Who does me many an injustice;
Old Oak of Moorish association,
Standing erect above all forest dwellers.
Your towering majesty holds all else in shade.
I shall embed an ivy in your roots
That will feast upon your succulent sap.

Ivy! Entwine around Oak in lustful embrace,
Slide between his bark and poison his core.
Choked shall he be from heat and mist-
Throttled in your charming snare.
Slow and gentle be
Like a breath of sweet fresh air-
He will not detect the sourness beneath.

Sun and Moon shall dance their courtship.
Summer shall slide away.
He shall lose his darling season
To a more gallant, virtuous suit.

Infested with louse and worm
That scuttle in his bough and quench
their appetite upon his wounded pride –
He shall be green!

He shall spew his leaves as the Cobra spits his venom.
They will fall in a cascade of red and purple.
He shall lose faith in his Golden Sun,
As he turns black and festers-
His acorns wither
And fall
Upon the fiery earth below.

 

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Writer’s Block

I was part of a creative writing club at school and every Tuesday lunchtime we would gather around the tables in the library, write for twenty minutes or so and then share what we had written before heading back to lessons. The English teacher who ran the club, along with the lovely librarian, would spend the week devising writing exercises to help us develop our understanding of English Literature. Sometimes these exercises focused in on specific literary devices (such as the Alliteration Writing Exercise I shared recently) or aimed to develop our skills at writing speech, developing characters and using plot devices. Many of these exercises double as resources to combat writer’s block.

One week we were all given a quote and told to use that as our first sentence. It was the first line of John Keats’s poem When I Have Fears That I Shall Cease To Be. As a result of this exercise I wrote my first ever sonnet. I have been reluctant to post it as the rhyme scheme is a little forced and a bit dramatic as a result. As ever, any comments and constructive criticism you can provide would be greatly appreciated. I propose that next time that you have writer’s block, you open a book at a random page and take the first sentence as the start of your new piece. Just make sure that you acknowledge what you have used as your inspiration as I have done here, or that you change the sentence should you ever pursue publication. Plagiarism must be avoided at all costs!

Promise

When I have fears that I shall cease to be
Before I reach the age of twenty-one –
Shame is that time was not increased by three
Years of life together, we achieved – none.
Death has hacked dreams of freedom into dust,
Reduced rivers of Hope to streams of mud,
Yet, Sweetheart, press upon you this I must:
For one more kiss I’d sacrifice all blood –
I would endure the agony again,
Treasure each second of waiting. I’d savour
Broken hearts for this eventual gain.
I only regret that we had not told her;
Having made my choice – I make it anew:
That I shall be, eternally, with you.

Thought Spirals

One of the most predictable triggers for my depression is my period. Typically it showed up in time for Valentine’s Day and I spent most of the morning on an emotional rollercoaster. I woke up feeling lethargic but was perked up by breakfast. Then I did the washing up and sat down to do some writing and lost all momentum again. I had to leave for a meeting in town in the mid-afternoon which was adding a layer of anxiety on top of my low, hormone-laden spirits.

I walked the dog which again elevated my mood and tried to focus on the smaller things, that the sun was shining, that the crocuses had started to bloom heralding the next phase in Spring’s arrival. I take great solace from my dog enjoying her walks, running around the park or local woods, chasing her ball, her tail flying high. This high can be infectious, as long as I keep focusing on the dog and the small details of my surroundings.

I returned home more motivated and ready to start all sorts of home renovation projects but my mood kept dipping. My thoughts wouldn’t focus on the task in hand and instead entered into the downward spirals that sufferers of mental illness are all too familiar with.

For instance, when I was assessing which tasks I had checked off my daily list and which I should do next, my initial thought was ‘Great, I’ve done the dishes, walked the dog and cleaned the bathroom, on to the next household chore!’ But my mind focused in minutely on the dishes, pointing out that yes I had done the dishes, but there was still a huge pile of laundry waiting upstairs.

My brain started to get anxious.

Was there enough space to hang up the next load of washing?

Was the last load dry enough to be put away to make space?

Did it even matter anyway as the laundry upstairs would take at least three loads to clear as there were whites, darks and lots of bulky items like bedclothes and towels?

How had the laundry caught up with us so quickly?

I must have failed to keep up with the laundry.

As I was clearly such a failure at a simple task such as laundry how could I ever hope to do anything more complex?

If I can’t complete simple tasks then I must be useless.

If I am useless then what is the point of my existence, I’m just taking up valuable room that could be being used by someone else far more effectively.

Maybe everyone would be better off without me…

This is a very typical spiral for me, and from my experience volunteering with mental health and wellbeing organisations, for many others as well. I also know from people around me, that these thought spirals that can start to interfere with daily tasks, personal hygiene and physical health, are one of the hardest aspects of mental illness to understand.

When I started blogging a month ago, I was aware of the benefits that it could hold for me, but not those that it could provide for those closest to me. Of course that this personal writing project has instilled a renewed sense of purpose, is something that I enjoy doing and has elevated my emotional baseline to somewhere nearer to where it was before two years ago, is a great relief to my husband and family. But I have learnt that my posts can also assist those who are trying to better understand mental illness.

About a week ago my mother asked if she could read my blog. It’s on the internet so of course doesn’t contain anything that I have concerns about sharing, but my family are no well adapted to sharing feelings. I have never even hugged my grandmother, so it was daunting to consciously expose my mother to the more intimate aspects of my mental illness. In honest truth we have had very few productive conversations about it in the past. There was also a lot about what happened two years ago that I hadn’t made her fully aware of, the events were in the past, there was nothing to be done about it, and until very recently I have not been inclined to open up about them. The #metoo campaign gave me the nudge I needed to express what had happened to me personally and feel that it was ok to talk about it, even though there are others who have endured more traumatic and dangerous experiences. For me it was a lesson in being able to own my story, rather than giving the memories of the event itself the power and control over me.

Blogging has helped me own my story, gain back the control I lost though someone else’s brutal actions, and at the same time, share those experiences. I mentioned before about hoping to create an atmosphere of empathy and solidarity and in the case of my mother that has led to her beginning to share some of her own experiences as well as gain a better understanding of mine and the ways it affected me personally. I have fortunately always been very close with my mum, but our relationship was put under strain when I slid into severe depression two years ago. For the first time I went for weeks without calling to her, I started lying to her and I didn’t even tell her I had met Samuel. My blog has reopened the channels of communication for us and in the words of my mother: ‘reading and digesting [the blog posts]… means I can quietly contemplate what you have experienced and what you feel now… without feeling I need to support with wisdom I don’t have’. I wasn’t sure exactly what my aim was when I started blogging, but I don’t think I could have hoped for a better outcome.

 

Blogging and Creative Writing

Over the last few days I have talked about the connection between mental health and creative writing and posted up some pieces of my own. I am very grateful for the positive response those pieces received, as a very amateur poet, posting online is especially scary. But I think posting anything online must be very daunting, even when you have edited and edited it and are feeling quietly confident that it is good. Whilst I know some poets who manage to write about completely fictional scenarios, for many, their writing is very personal and for me at least my poetry comes from a place of very raw emotion. Most of the poems I compose are completed within 10 minutes and are not very good. They are unrefined and really are as if I just took what I was feeling and threw it at a piece of paper.

Sometimes, just sometimes, some parts stick and become workable. If I am extremely lucky, the poem has written itself and there is just the smallest bit of tweaking to do. This is why poetry will never be more than a hobby for me. I was part of a student poetry group at university and witnessed the extensive editing of my fellows and the labour of love their poems became. They made statements, not just expressions.

For me, blogging has become an extension of creative writing. The expression of feeling is not as dramatic as it was when I was younger and charged with teenage hormones, but it is still a flow of consciousness, and perhaps to an extent unconsciousness, as sometimes the posts still feel as they are writing themselves. My hands hit a variety of keys just as my conscious mind manages to construct a sentence. I never used to be able to type like this. I used to always have to have pen and paper, the pen feeling like an extension of my arm. I was a real tortoise when it came to typing too, to the extent that it became quite the joke at school. So blogging seems to be developing all sorts of skills. I have enjoyed reading back over old poems these last few days as I selected what to post online (something like blogging I never dreamed I’d actually do). Perhaps the fact that I haven’t written anything for a couple of years has made me more aware about what is reasonable, workable and what just needs to be deleted and let go of. I’m becoming more aware of grammar too as I edit my blog posts, although my spelling is not improving!

Blogging and Mental Health

As I hoped, just as creative writing in the past helped me to process how I was feeling, since I have started this blog I have experienced a marked improvement in my mental health. I don’t feel as highly strung as I did two months ago, I am more inclined to reflect and by typing up and publishing some events I have been able to reduce their presence in the front of my mind. Of course they are still there, loitering somewhere in my memory, but they no longer appear as flashbacks, suddenly spiralling me out of control. Another comparison I have noted since starting this individual post is that just like my poetry, my posts are very personal. They are expressions of how I am feeling with the odd generalised observation thrown in. This is a criticism that has been made in the slam scene of my poetry, not necessarily meaning the poems themselves where bad, but that they didn’t suit the fast-paced, powerful and clear statements usually found in slam-style poems. Again, its the case that the poems made statements, not just expressions.

This comparative statement links back to every bloggers fear, that what they are typing and publishing online has absolutely no relevance whatsoever. Even when it is personal, human nature often seeks approval and desires to feel useful. That there is some value to ourselves and in what we do. The first few posts I published were very much just for me. I didn’t expect anyone to read them and I wasn’t too concerned about what they were saying, as long as I didn’t make a fool of myself on the internet. Then I started putting up posts that I hoped might be beneficial to someone else but me. Not helpful or advisory or anything like that but that they might find a solidarity in them. One of the reasons I began volunteering in mental health organisations was because I didn’t want anyone else to feel as alone as I did when my father died. I felt that I had no one to talk to about how his death affected me or about the grief I was feeling. Everyone just wanted to hear that I was fine so they could move on to another topic. All aspects of mental health can feel the same way. I was lucky that both my mum and dad had prepared and responded to the situation in a way that meant my mental health remained stable even after his death. But a few years later a number of things happened and my mental health did decline. I hoped that posting about these experiences would let someone else know that they weren’t alone in that experience and that there was something beyond it.

Moving Forward

Now I am looking into maybe trying to make my blog a little more substantial. I am enjoying blogging, it’s great to be writing again and, as I mentioned, there have been a lot of positive outcomes so far. However, in the reading that I have been doing (it’s still pretty minor at the moment, the idea of really getting my teeth into blogging is a very recent one) the recurring theme is not just to find a niche, but also to solve a problem. I’m not sure that writing posts expressing my own experiences with mental health in the hope of instilling solidarity and presenting empathy to hoped-for readers can be classified under problem solving.  I’m also pretty convinced that I am either too niche or not niche enough. I am quite an eclectic and, I suppose, erratic personality, even as an archaeologist and historian, I know a little about the whole expanse of human existence, from early hominins to the 1980s. But I am not the person you want on your team in a pub quiz because I don’t know enough about the specifics. I don’t specialise well.

I have come to terms with my eclectic blog, writing about all the little bits and bobs bouncing about in my brain was the reason I started blogging, its the reason its helping my mental wellbeing and I’ll just have to hope that someone else finds it enjoyable or useable, perhaps by accident. It is perhaps possible (and as soon as I have finished typing this I will sit for a while with my fingers crossed) that by pursuing and documenting all these little bits and bobs, I might stumble into a bit more of a niche and maybe that will solve the problem of problem-solving for me. One can dream.

 

Writing Exercises

Another reason I started blogging was to get me back into writing. I mentioned in Breakthrough that I have sent off an application for postgraduate study. One of my biggest concerns was whether or not I would be able to produce written work of the same standard I did for my undergraduate, let alone the quality required to score high at Masters level.

There’s also the skeleton of a novel rattling around in the back of my mind. I have never written seriously before. Not with a deliberate goal. From the time I could write I was scribbling (the only adequate description for my handwriting) silly stories and adding rather squashy drawings as illustrations. I started writing poetry when I was about 9, because my friend had to write a limerick for homework and I fancied giving it a go. As a teenager these poems got particularly morbid and dramatic, but they potentially served a subconscious purpose of keeping my mental health issues in check. I would get anxious or overwhelmed or upset, and pour out my feelings as words (I guess as I have been doing whilst blogging) and it eased those emotions.

When I was at university I joined a couple of writing groups and participated in a few slams. Some poems were well-received, sometimes I froze on stage and some poems just didn’t fit the set up of poetry slams. A number of my poetical friends frequently post their work on social media, but I feel too shy to do that. My writing has been mainly for fun or for catharsis; a hobby rather than anything I took particularly seriously or considered professionally. But as I have been blogging and sharing other intimate experiences I thought I would post up a couple of my poems, as another anti-anxiety milestone if nothing else. Often it is the anticipation of doing something and all the imagined negative outcomes that causes the anxiety and I do hate to be beaten by my own mind. So, as much as it scares me, I’ve posted a poem that I have shown a few friends in the past, so at least its had other people looking at it before. Its speaking to my oldest friend.

Hunters

We grew up under the same mountain
Ash and Sycamore;
I, small and pale,
You, tall and rustic.
Playmate, rival, sounding board –
You rounded me;
As the river
Carves
The chalk.

Ours was always competition:
You – older, bigger, stronger;
I – younger, faster, bolder.
Our playground squabbles,
Practice for a wider arena –
Sparing partners united
Against a splintering world:
Blood sisters.

But then –
We fell in love
With a shadow
Passing over the mountain.
A hawk –
Hiding in the sun,
Only visible
By its shade.

You chased with your bow;
I courted with my quill.
Hurling bolt after bolt,
You tried to bring it down –
Hold it captive:
A trophy of your mercy games.
I seduced with song –
Letting it soar
To watch its full glory.

I haven’t taken part in any slams, or even written poetry, for a few years now and I am really nervous about posting this online. If you have any feedback or comments please get in touch!